Summary: It’s Adam’s rifle . . . or is it?
Word Count: 6602
Hoss strolled into the living room from the kitchen, a half eaten apple in one hand and a smile on his face. The aromas drifting into the house from the kitchen had told his sensitive nose that Hop Sing was making his favorite meal for supper and he had gone in to check on its progress. Progress was very good and the thought of a hearty meal in such a short time lifted his spirits like nothing else could. Now headed into the living room, he stopped short at the sight of Adam sitting on the low table in the center of the room with his back to him. He held a rifle to his eye, sighting down the barrel. Hoss whistled over the glossy wood of the rifle’s stock and the highly polished sheen of the metal barrel.
Adam stiffened at the sound and quickly shoved the rifle behind him as he wheeled around, but seeing Hoss’ smiling face, he relaxed and sighed. “Oh, Hoss; I was afraid it was Pa.”
Hoss sauntered closer and shook his head in admiration as Adam pulled the rifle out and up again, tucked it firmly into his shoulder, and looked down the barrel all in one smooth movement. “That sure is a beaut, Adam. Where’d ya get it?”
Adam lowered the rifle and gave Hoss a grin. “From Dan Evans.” He ran a hand lovingly down the smooth, dark walnut stock. “What do you think?”
Hoss whistled again in admiration and grinned at his brother. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything purtier. It’s one of them new-fangled Henrys you and Pa been talkin’ about ain’t it?”
“It is.” Adam flipped the rifle and held it out butt first to Hoss.
Hoss handed Adam his apple and took the rifle; quickly he threw it up to his shoulder, sighted it in, cocked it as he brought it down and then repeated the process. “Ain’t that something? Nice, and smooth and it sits fine in the shoulder, too, don’t it?” Hoss brought it up again and looked down the length of the barrel. “How’s it shoot?”
Adam grinned again. “Straight and true as they come; the action is as smooth as silk.” Adam’s grin widened and his eyes sparkled. “And I sent off 15 rounds in about as many seconds.”
Hoss shook his head over that. “By gum, jes like they said, huh?’
Adam couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice. “Just like they said.”
Hoss whistled again, “Now ain’t that somethin’?” He reluctantly handed the rifle back to his brother. Adam pulled out a cloth and ran it gently over the gleaming gun removing imaginary fingerprints.
“You takin’ it huntin’?”
“Nope,” Adam looked up at him and winked conspiratorially. “It’s for Pa. You know how he’s wanted one? Well, when I heard Dan had gotten a shipment of them in, I jumped on it. Good thing, too. He had six of them and I got the last one. I thought I’d give it to Pa just before the hunting trip.”
“He’s gonna be tickled pink, that’s fer sure. Can’t wait to see his face when he gets it.”
“Yeah, well, you make sure you don’t say anything to him. I want it to be a surprise. Better not tell Joe either.”
“Tell me what?” Little Joe asked as he walked in the door. Then his eyes fell on the rifle in Adam’s hands “Hey, Adam! Where you’d get the rifle?” He hurried over holding out his hand for the gun.
Hoss grinned and Adam rolled his eyes and sighed as he handed it over. “Be careful with it.”
Joe ran a reverent hand over the metal and wood. “Say,” he drawled in admiration. “this is something, Adam. One of those new Henry Repeaters isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Adam watched indulgently as Joe threw the gun up and tucked it tight into his shoulder, mirroring his and Hoss’ earlier actions.
“Nice. Where’d ya get it?” Joe reluctantly handed it back as Adam held a hand out for it.
“From Dan Evans.” Adam laid it gently in the velvet-lined box beside him and shut it. Turning to his brother, he became serious.
“Joe, this is a surprise for Pa. I don’t want him to know about it until the hunting trip next week.” He glanced over at Hoss, including him. “You both have to promise me you won’t say anything to him.”
“Ah, come on, Adam, do ya even gotta ask? Ya know we won’t say nothin’”
“Yeah, we wouldn’t spoil your surprise, Adam; you should know that.”
“Well, I want your word anyway. No matter what.” Adam lifted a finger in emphasis. “You won’t tell Pa.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s necessary,” Hoss grumbled. “But I promise.”
“Yeah, me too, Adam. I won’t say anything,” Joe promised.
“Thanks fellas.” Adam stood and lifted the box “Now to put this somewhere safe before Pa comes home.” He winked at his brothers and then headed upstairs to his room.
The last thing Hoss expected to see when he arrived home several days later was Adam lying flat on the settee in the living room.
“Adam, you all right?” he asked, concerned. He tossed his hat on the credenza and moved quickly over to the settee.
Adam opened his eyes slowly and then sat up, grimacing as he did so. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He touched the back of his head gently. “Other than a knot on the back of my head and a rather persistent headache.”
Hoss leaned over, gently touched the back of Adam’s head and winced at the large knot he felt there. “You see Doc Martin about that?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that serious. Just gave me a whopping headache.”
Hoss threw a leg over the arm of the settee. “What happened?”
Adam lifted an eyebrow “I was bushwhacked,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Bushwhacked!” Hoss’ whole face registered his surprise.
“Yes.” Adam winced again as he gingerly probed the knot at the back of his head.
“But, but… what for?”
Adam raised his eyebrows at him. “What else is a man usually waylaid for?”
“Well, considering it’s us, it could be any number of things.”
“Well, considering the large amount of money I was carrying and the brand spankin’ new Henry rifle in the box slung across my saddle, I’m going to guess it was that.” Adam’s voice was laced with sarcasm, his throbbing head making him less than patient with his brother.
“Yeah, I took it in awhile back to get Sal to do some engraving and inlay work on it. I picked it up in town today.” His voice softened with disgust and disappointment.
Hoss whistled low. “I’ll be. Did ya get a look at who did it?”
Adam placed his hands to either side of himself and prepared to stand. “Nope, I was just riding along, felt something hit the back of my head and then nothing.” He grit his teeth as he pushed himself up. “I figured I’d ride back in to town this evening and let Roy know.” He took a step and then grabbed quickly for Hoss’ shoulder as the room began to spin.
Swiftly Hoss stood and steadied him. “I don’t think you’re goin’ anywhere, ceptin’ to bed.”
“Nonsense, I’m fine. I just need to rest a bit. Besides, I have to let Roy know so I can get that rifle back.”
Hoss understood the edge of determination in Adam’s voice. “Adam, you’re in no condition for a ride inta town. Now I’ll get Pa and…”
Adam turned on his brother. “NO. You can’t tell Pa about this, Hoss. He’ll find out about the rifle.”
“Adam, you can’t keep this from him. You got a knot the size of an egg on the back of your head and you can hardly stand! So what if he finds out about the rifle afore ya wanted him to.”
“Hoss, you promised me you wouldn’t say anything about it, no matter what. It’s even more important now. If I don’t get the rifle back, I don’t want him to know about it.”
“No, Hoss. Just don’t say anything.” Adam shrugged off Hoss’ steadying hands and stumbled toward the staircase.
Hoss just stood and watched his brother go. He knew how stubborn he could be, and from the look on his face, he wasn’t going to change his mind about this. The best Hoss could do was cover for him and see he didn’t over tax himself before his head was better. And he hoped to goodness they did find the man who’d taken the rifle. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Adam so discouraged and disappointed as when he’d told Hoss he’d lost it.
It was barely two days later that Hoss and Joe were relaxing before a comfortable fire waiting for Ben and Adam to get home for supper when Ben opened the front door of the house and stuck his head around the edge.
“Hoss, is Adam around?” Ben almost whispered.
“No, Pa, just me and Joe. Adam’s up on the north ridge, though he should be back anytime.”
“Good.” Ben grinned and came through the door carrying a long wooden box. Hoss’ eyes widened at the sight of it and he glanced over at Joe who frowned and shrugged back at him.
“You boys are never going to believe what I found in town today.” Ben strode over to his desk and placed the box on top. His eyes sparkled with excitement as he motioned to the boys to come closer and they reluctantly joined him. Hoss’ heart sank as Ben opened the box to reveal the gleaming Henry rifle that had been stolen from Adam only two days ago.
Ben carefully lifted the rifle from its case. “Have you ever seen anything like it? It’s one of those new repeating rifles that man Tyler Henry came out with. It has perfect balance. Just feel it, Hoss.” He held the gun out to his son.
Hoss took the gun and tried to feel some enthusiasm, though all he felt at the moment was sick. “Yeah, that’s real nice, Pa.” he replied as he hefted the gun, then ran his hand along the silver inlay in the walnut stock and the fancy engraving on the brass frame. It was the only difference between this gun and the one Adam had shown him so proudly last week. He even recognized the inlay and engraving designs from the plans Adam had shown him. “It’s a beautiful gun, Pa.” He tried to smile and say more but the words stuck in his throat.
“Yeah, Pa. It’s real pretty,” Joe piped up, rescuing Hoss. Taking the gun from his brother, he gave Hoss a nudge and a look. Hoss knew he’d have to act a little more excited or Pa was going suspect something was up. They’d all been as excited as could be when they’d first heard of the new rifle that could shoot fifteen times in a row without having to reload and his lack of enthusiasm over actually seeing one was going to raise Pa’s suspicions and that was the last thing they needed.
“Where’d ya get it?” Joe asked eagerly and Hoss was relieved that Joe was able to conjure up some enthusiasm and ask the question he himself was dying to know but was too afraid to ask himself.
“I got it from Tom Andrews. I stopped in there to pick up that rifle he was going over for me and he had this one just sitting there. Said he’d bought it off of some fellow who was passing through. Well, I just couldn’t resist. You know how Adam’s been wanting one of these.” Ben grinned and chuckled. “I don’t think he’s talked about anything else since we first heard about them. So, I saw this one and, well, I just had to get it for him.”
Hoss felt his heart fall into his shoes and he gulped. “Pa, did you just say you bought this gun for Adam?”
Joe glanced at Hoss from under his eyebrows and shook his head in warning.
“Yes, I thought it could be an early Christmas present, since I know he’ll want it for the hunting trip. I’m going to give it to him the Sunday before we leave.” Ben leaned back against the desk and crossed his arms. “Won’t he be surprised though? I don’t know how I’m going to wait.” He grinned at Hoss and Joe.
Joe threw another warning to Hoss. “Well, that’s great, Pa. I’m sure Adam’s going to like it real well,” he said with a smile and handed the gun back to Ben.
Ben placed the gun gently back into its case and turned to look carefully back and forth at his sons. Hoss could tell by the look on his face that he sensed something wrong. Ben turned serious and frowned slightly. “Boys, you aren’t upset that I bought the rifle for Adam, are you? It’s not like you to begrudge your brother a gift.”
Joe’s eyes widened. “Oh no, Pa, we think it’s great that you got it for Adam.” He forced a little more enthusiasm out of his voice. “He’s gonna love it, Pa. And we couldn’t be gladder that you got it for him, could we, Hoss?”
Hoss could hardly get the words out, but he tried. “That’s right, Pa,” he said forcing a smile. “We’re right glad you got the rifle. Adam’s going to be right pleased about it.” Hoss felt like he was lying through his teeth. He could just imagine Adam’s reaction when he saw the gun he had bought to give to Pa lying there in its case – a gift from Pa instead – and it sure wasn’t going to be pleasure; down right shock would be more like it.
“Yeah, we can’t wait to see his face when he gets it.” Joe continued.
Hoss frowned at Joe, thinking that was going a bit far and Joe shrugged at him, as if to admit it wasn’t the best thing but he had to say something.
Ben studied them both again, obviously not completely convinced but willing to let it pass. “Well, all right.” He held a finger up and pointed at them both. “Now this is a secret until Sunday, you understand?” He shook the finger warningly at them. “Not a word to Adam about this.” He looked at them sternly, then smiled. “Right?”
“Sure, Pa.” Joe answered.
“Yes, Pa, you can bet I ain’t gonna say anything to Adam about it,” Hoss agreed firmly, his whole heart and soul behind his answer. He had decided then and there he wasn’t going to let Adam find out about it ever. Not if he could help it anyway.
Ben smiled at them both and gave Hoss a pat on the arm. “Good. Well, I better get this upstairs and tucked away out of sight before Adam gets home.” He closed the lid of the case firmly and tucked it under his arm. He shook his head and smiled again over some secret pleasure. “I agree, Joe,” he said looking up at his son, “I can hardly wait to see Adam’s face either.” And with a last pat on Hoss’ arm, he headed up the stairs to his room.
Once Ben was safely out of sight, Joe heaved a big sigh and sank down on the edge of the desk. “Oh man, what do we do now?”
Hoss sank down next to him. “I don’t know, Joe. But I do know one thing — we’ve got ta make sure neither Pa nor Adam ever find out about this.”
“What! Hoss how on earth are we gonna do that!” Joe asked incredulously. “The minute Adam SEES that box he’s gonna know what’s in it, and if you think even our impervious and impassive brother is going to be able to keep the shock off his face when he does, well, you’ve got another think coming!”
“Yeah, I know, that’s why we’ve got ta keep him from seeing it.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Ah, Hoss…”
“Just hang on, Joe, let me think a minute.” Hoss waved at him to be quiet. He sat for several minutes, his brow furrowed and his blue eyes narrowed, while his hand played with his chin
Joe tried to wait patiently, knowing, given time, Hoss would no doubt come up with something, but the longer Hoss sat, the more agitated he became. “Come on, Hoss, the only way out of this is to just tell Pa about the rifle, then he can give it back to Adam so that he can give it…back… to…” Joe’s voice trailed off as Hoss glared at him from beneath lowered eyebrows.
Hoss’ chin jutted out and his eyes darkened. “Now look here, Joe. We both promised Adam we wouldn’t tell Pa no matter what. And just now, we told Pa we wouldn’t tell Adam. Now that’s two promises I intend to keep.”
“No, Joe, you listen and you listen hard.” Hoss’ blue eyes snapped. “There’s no way you’re going to get me to tell Pa that he bought a gun to give to Adam that Adam had already bought to give to him, but that got stolen. And there’s no way I’m going to tell Adam that Pa bought the gun to give ta him that he was goin’ to give ta Pa afore somebody up an took it so then he couldn’t.”
Joe stared at Hoss, his lips moving and confusion creasing his face. “Hoss, what did you just say?”
“Weren’t ya listenin’?”
“Yeah, I was listenin’, but you weren’t makin’ any sense! Now start makin’ sense and I’ll start listenin’.”
Hoss shot a glare at him, again. Then he sighed. “Oh, never mind, just be quiet and let me think on it.”
Joe crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently. Minutes passed. Finally, Joe held a hand out to Hoss. “Hoss, be reasonable; we’re just going to have to face it. Short of taking the gun from Pa and giving it back to Adam, there’s no other way but to tell them.”
“Hey, that’s it Joe! We can steal the gun from Pa, give it to Sheriff Coffee and he can give it back to Adam, so Adam can give it to Pa!”
Joe rolled his eyes. “And then what’s Pa going to say when Adam gives him a gun he bought to give to Adam but that got stolen!”
“Joe, when are you going to start talkin’ sense?”
Joe heaved a big sigh and threw up his hands.
“I’ve got it.” Hoss snapped his fingers, his eyes widened and a huge grin lighted his face.
“The perfect solution.” He turned to Joe. “We won’t steal the rifle from Pa at all; we’ll just get us another rifle, give it to Sheriff Coffee so he can give it to Adam, so he’ll have a rifle to give ta Pa, too!”
“Hoss.” Joe voice took on a condescending tone as he tried to reason with his brother. “Come on, Hoss. We’re talking a Henry repeater here. You don’t just go to the local gun store and say I want one. Those Henrys are rare; you know Adam said Dan only had six and Adam bought the last one. And not only that, do you know how much those rifles cost? More than a month’s salary!”
“Yeah, I know. But, Joe, don’t ya see it’s the only solution, and we gotta do it.” Hoss’ face set into the hard lines that Joe knew only too well.
Joe continued on, almost in desperation. “And that’s not even counting the special inlay and engraving work Adam had done. We’d have to duplicate that or Adam’s gonna know for sure it’s not the same gun.” He shook his head at his brother. “Hoss, it just won’t work.”
“Sure it will, Joe!” Hoss contradicted him eagerly. “We just find out from Dan who he sold the rest of those guns to. We’ll just buy one from one of them. Then we’ll take the gun over to Sal Lawson and get him to do the same inlay and engraving on that gun that Adam had done on the gun Pa bought.”
“Sal Lawson! Hoss do you realize how much he charges for his work?”
“Yep, Adam said it was twenty dollars.”
“Twen… Twenty dollars! Hoss where are we going to come up with that kind of money?”
“Oh, come on, Joe. Quit makin’ this so difficult. Just think of all the stuff Pa and Adam do for us. Now this is real important to them, you know that. You saw their faces, and if you coulda seen how disappointed Adam was when that gun got stolen, well then you’d know why we got to do this no matter what it takes or how much it costs. And just think of how bad Pa’s gonna feel if he finds out that he bought the stolen gun Adam was going to give him. And then look at it from the other direction. Just think how good they’re both gonna feel when they realize they each bought the exact same gun for the other one. We just gotta make this work, Joe, we just gotta.”
Joe heaved a big sigh, but knew he was beaten. He could no more refuse Hoss when he spoke that way than anything. “All right. I’m in.”
Hoss gave him a punch on the shoulder. “I knew you’d do it, short shanks. Now look, I got 36 dollars left from last payday. How much you got?”
“Okay, that makes sixty three. Now I’ve got that little six-shooter and I’m thinking Dan will give me at least ten or fifteen for it. So that gives us at least seventy-three maybe seventy-eight. Now Adam bought the gun for forty eight dollars and Sal charged twenty which makes sixty eight so the way I figure we’ll have plenty for both the gun and the fancy work.”
“Yeah, sure sounds that way.” Joe was less than enthusiastic. “Only I ain’t so sure I want to spend my money on a rifle I’m not even going to get to use.”
“Oh, come on Joe, you’re just givin’ up twenty seven. That ain’t much attall.”
Joe looked into the clear blue eyes of his brother and realized he couldn’t hold out any longer. “You know, Hoss, you’re about the best man I’ve ever known.”
“Aw shucks, Joe.”
Joe’s grin split his face from ear to ear and he rubbed his hands together “So what’s the first order of business?
“Well, I guess we head in to town and find ourselves a Henry rifle.” Hoss grinned back at him and his blue eyes sparkled.
Only it didn’t prove as easy as Hoss had supposed to find another rifle. The men who had purchased the other five rifles Dan Evans had had for sale weren’t all that eager to part from them. But between Hoss’ persistence and Joe’s charm they finally managed to convince Lars Peterson to sell them his – for a tidy profit.
“Fifty-eight bucks! Hoss, that rifle costs us fifty-eight bucks!”
“Joe, would you calm down. We got the gun; that’s the most important thing, Right?”
“Not exactly, because you’re forgetting, big brother, that we also have to get that gun engraved and inlayed with SILVER inlay so that it matches the one Pa’s going to give Adam. Now Dan gave you twelve dollars for that pistol, and if I’m figuring right that means we had seventy five dollars for the rifle and the fancy work.” He paused and did some quick thinking. “Which means after we paid for the rifle, we are three dollars short.”
“Oh, come on Joe, three dollars ain’t nothin’. I’m sure Sal will let us pay that little bit back later.” Hoss smacked Joe’s back. “Come on, you’re makin’ this too difficult. Let’s get this gun over to Sal; we ain’t got time to waste.”
“Sure, boys, I can do this gun up same’s I did Adam’s. But this stock’s quite a bit lighter than the one he brought in here. Were ya aware of that?” Sal looked over his horn-rimmed glasses at Hoss and Joe questioningly.
“Lighter wood?” Somehow Joe wasn’t all that surprised.
“Yep. Now I wouldn’ta mentioned it, save ya said ya wanted an identical gun ta the one Adam had me fancy up. Though why you Cartwrights is wantin’ two guns exact the same is beyond me.”
“Never mind that, Sal.” Hoss shrugged off the comment. “How different is it? Do ya think Adam’d notice? I mean once ya get the inlay in and all.”
Sal rubbed a hand over his chin. “Well, now that’s hard to say. See that gun of Adam’s was pretty dark. Made from heart wood, I’d say. This’n here is quite a bit lighter, no doubt made from further out on the tree, see.” He swept his hand along the stock. “Now I can darken it up fer ya; it’ll just take a bit of stain and it’ll match purty close ta Adam’s gun.” He smiled up at Hoss and Joe. “And I’ll only charge ya five dollars extry seeing as how you’re friends.”
“Five..” Joe started to protest but didn’t get a chance as Hoss clamped a firm hand over his mouth.
“That sounds just fine, Sal, you go ahead and do that.” Hoss grabbed Joe’s arm and steered him into a corner. The minute they were by themselves Joe pulled his arm out of Hoss’ grasp and turned on him.
“Five more dollars!” He hissed. “Hoss, we ain’t got enough!”
“Shhh. Keep yer voice down, Joe.” Hoss threw a quick glance over his shoulder at Sal, then lowered his head conspiratorially. “Now it ain’t that much more. Just five dollars.”
“Yeah, but maybe you’ve forgotten that we’re already three dollars short,” Joe’s voice carried a note of hysteria. “Five more makes eight. Hoss, where are we going to find eight more dollars before next Friday?”
“Well, now, Joe, I’m thinkin’ on it.”
“You and your thinking on it. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place, you know?!”
“Now, Joe, jus’ ‘cause we’ve hit a couple of stumblin’ blocks don’t mean it weren’t a good idea. Now look, if worst comes to worst, we can always borrow a few dollars from Pa or Adam.”
“Without letting them know what we need it for?”
Hoss could sense the building frustration in his brother and knew he had to think fast and talk faster. “Now look here, Joe. Ya just gotta remember why we’re doin’ this. It’s for Pa and Adam. Now ya can’t go losin’ it now over a few measly dollars. Now we’ll come up with something. Let’s just let Sal go ahead and make that rifle as much of a duplicate of the other as possible and let the rest worry about itself. Okay?”
Joe’s mouth tightened into one firm line, but again Hoss’ earnest blue eyes defeated him and he sighed deeply. “I guess you’re right, Hoss,” he mumbled reluctantly. “We shouldn’t let a little ol’ thing like money bother us.” Suddenly he grinned and his eyes brightened. “Shucks it never has before, right?” he said carelessly and elbowed Hoss gently in the ribs.
“I knew you’d see it my way, Short Shanks!” Hoss’ happy grin was payment enough for Joe. Together they turned and made their way back to the patiently waiting Sal.
“All right, Sal.” Hoss’ voice was jubilant. “You just go ahead and make that gun up just as nice and perty as the other one. And we’d appreciate it iffen you didn’t say anything about this to Pa or Adam.”
“Sure thing, Hoss.” Sal stood and smiled at the boys. “I’ll need half of that payment in advance, though.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Hoss rummaged around in his shirt pocket and handed over the bills he dredged out to Sal. “There ya go, thirteen dollars. That’s a little more’n half and we’ll have the rest for ya on Friday when we come pick it up.”
“Uh, you will have it ready by Friday, right?” Joe asked.
“Sure, sure. Already done this pattern once and I ain’t got nothing else pressin’ at the moment. I spects I’ll have it by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, actually.”
Hoss smiled big. “Well, now that’s real fine, Sal. We’ll be in ta pick it up on Thursday then, and Joe here will be in town Tuesday to see how it’s comin’.”
“Sounds fine. You boys have yerselves a fine day now.” Sal waved them out the door.
The next few days were difficult ones for Hoss and Joe. Not only did they have to come up with more money, they also had to somehow keep their secret from Adam and Pa. The money problem solved itself easily enough. Joe sold an extra bridle he had to one of the hands for three dollars and Hoss made up the other five by taking on all comers at arm wrestling at the Bucket of Blood.
Keeping the secret was a lot more difficult once the money problem was solved. Hoss was so excited that his plan had actually worked that it took all his will-power not to blurt out the whole thing to Adam, especially as his brother continued to walk around in a distracted and subdued mood that told Hoss as plain as anything that he was still brooding over the lost rifle.
Hoss managed to rein himself in, though, and he and Joe headed to town bright and early Thursday morning to pick up the new rifle from Sal.
Sal presented it to them with a grin and they both sucked in their breath at the sight of the rifle, nearly identical to the one Adam had had, gleaming in its velvet-lined box.
“Now, that sure is one purty sight.” Hoss sighed.
“Yeah, you did a great job on it, Sal.” Joe agreed grinning.
“Wal, thank you, boys; anytime you need any work done you jest bring it on by.” Sal grinned back.
Hoss paid him and the two headed home, the rifle carefully balanced in front of Hoss on the saddle horn. He wasn’t going to let anything happen to that rifle now or let it out of his sight until he placed it in Adam’s hands.
Back at the ranch, Hoss carefully peeked around the corner of the front door to make sure the coast was clear. He was relieved to see the great room empty except for his older brother sitting on the settee, his nose deep in a book. He grinned back at Joe and then poked his head back into the room.
Adam looked up and back at Hoss. “Hoss, what…?”
“Pa around?” Hoss whispered.
“Upstairs lying down I think. Why…”
Hoss grinned and came through the door, Joe close behind him. Adam’s eyes widened at the sight of the rifle box in Hoss’ hands and he stood. Hoss winked at him. “Adam, you’ll never guess what we got…” he began but footsteps on the stairs above him stopped him short and he shoved the box behind his back quickly, Joe stepping close to help hide it.
Pa came bounding down the stairs, smiling. “Ah, I thought I heard you boys ride in. Did you have a nice time in town?”
“Uh, oh, yes, Pa. It was great,” Hoss answered nervously, frantically trying to figure out how he was going to get the rifle upstairs without Pa seeing it now.
Beside him. Joe gulped and laughed nervously. “Yeah, Pa. Town was fine; not much going on, though.”
Pa looked at them curiously. “That’s good. Well, I need to talk to Jones about that hunting trip.” Ben started for the door.
“Just a minute, Pa.” Adam’s voice halted him and Hoss frowned at his older brother as he came up to Hoss and walking behind him, took the rifle box from his hands. “Whadya doin’ Adam?!” Hoss hissed quietly, hoping Pa couldn’t hear him.
“Adam!” Joe added his own fierce whisper.
Adam merely looked at them and walked over to place the long, slim box on the dining room table. Hoss and Joe and Pa followed along. Hoss looked at Joe who merely shrugged his shoulders. Pa stepped up to the table opposite Adam and looked at the box in surprise. “Adam?”
Adam raised an eyebrow at his pa and then glanced at his brothers before opening the box. He stood looking at its contents, not saying a word, an odd look on his face. Hoss looked at Joe who shrugged. The silence hung heavy in the room and Adam’s stillness was beginning to make Hoss uneasy.
“It’s the rifle, Adam,” Hoss whispered, though he wasn’t sure why he was whispering, since there was no way they were going to be able to keep Adam’s secret now, not with Pa standing right there. “Roy gave it to us in town today,” Hoss added, remembering the story he and Joe had rehearsed. He tried desperately to read the impassive face still looking down at the Henry.
“Adam?” Joe’s asked, his voice unsure.
“Son, what’s the matter?” Ben’s voice was quiet and concerned.
Adam didn’t speak; he merely took a deep breath and then turned the box so that Ben could see it’s contents.
Ben took one look and then glanced sharply at Hoss and Joe. “Did you say Roy gave this to you?”
“Yeah, Pa. It’s a… a…rifle.” Joe glanced nervously at Hoss.
“I know what it is, Joseph. I’m just wondering how you ended up with it?”
“Oh, uh, well…” Joe looked at Hoss again, his eyes pleading.
“Well, you see, Pa.” Hoss gulped and glanced at Adam, not sure how to explain without telling Pa everything, and hoping Adam would give him a clue. Adam merely raised one dark eyebrow at him and crossed his arms. “Well, Pa…” Hoss shrugged.
“Never mind.” Ben gave them both a searching look. “Boys, Sheriff Coffee was just here.”
Hoss gulped again. “He was?”
“He was and he had some important news for us.”
“Interesting news.” Adam finally spoke. He gave his brothers a crooked smile. “He wanted me to know that he found the man who bushwhacked me.”
Hoss could feel the collar of his shirt tightening. Beside him Joe’s face had taken on that sick look it got when he knew they were in for it. “He did?” Joe squeaked.
Adam pursed his lips. “He did.”
“Well, hey, that must have been how he got the rifle back, don’t that beat all.” Joe grinned at Hoss, but it was easy to see his enthusiasm was forced.
“Yeah, isn’t that great!” Hoss tried to sound enthusiastic as well and failed just as miserably. He and Joe both knew from the looks on Pa and Adam’s faces that there was more to the story.
“The man didn’t have Adam’s rifle.” Pa said.
Hoss and Joe looked at one another and then back at Pa. “He didn’t?” Hoss asked.
“No, he didn’t.” Adam replied. “He sold the gun to Tom Andrews.”
“Oh, man.” Joe groaned.
Ben gazed long and hard at his two youngest sons. “Now do you mind telling me where this gun came from?”
Hoss hung his head and kicked the floor, unsure of where to start explaining; he felt too sick at heart to think of anything but that he had failed.
Joe looked at Hoss then cleared his throat. “We, uh…We bought it, Pa. Hoss and me. We pooled our money together and sold a couple of things and bought it, so’s you and Adam wouldn’t find out that you bought Adam’s rifle.”
Joe’s confession loosened Hoss’ tongue. “Yeah, we figured, we’d just give this one ta Adam ta give to you and no one would be the wiser since they’re exactly the same.”
“ ‘cept Sal had to darken this one.” Joe clarified, determined to be absolutely truthful now that the scheme was out.
“You didn’t think we’d wonder how the two rifles came to be exactly identical?” Ben asked.
Hoss and Joe looked at one another. “Well, I guess we didn’t think that far,” Hoss admitted, toeing the ground again.
“You didn’t think that far?”
Hoss could tell Pa was getting ready to give it to them and he hastened to explain and hopefully head it off. “Well, Pa. Adam…he was just so excited ‘bout getting you that rifle, and iffen you coulda seen how disappointed he was when it got stolen and he didn’t have it ta give ya anymore. And then you was all excited about having the rifle fer Adam. Well, don’t ya see we just had ta do somethin’, Pa?
“‘Cause you woulda felt terrible when you found out ya bought the stolen gun that Adam had bought fer you and Adam woulda felt terrible ‘bout you givin’ him a gun that he meant ta give to you.”
“So you decided to get another gun so that we’d both have one, and neither one of us would have to feel terrible about anything. Is that it?” Adam said.
Hoss looked sheepishly over at Adam, “Yeah, I guess that was it.”
Adam’s eyes suddenly softened and a slow smile spread across his face. “Thank you, Hoss.”
“Ah, shucks, Adam, it didn’t work.” Hoss frowned. “Pa found out about your surprise anyway.”
“That doesn’t matter. You tried.”
“What’s the good a tryin’ iffen you don’t succeed?”
“Adam’s right, son,” Pa broke in, a proud smile on his face as he looked at his younger sons. “You and Joe tried to do something special for Adam and me. You tried to save us from disappointment and embarrassment. You may not have chosen the wisest way to do it.” Ben gave them a look and Hoss and Joe gave each other a sheepish grin. “But your hearts were in the right place.”
“Ah, Pa. Ya know I couldn’t just stand around and let you and Adam be hurt like that. Joe neither.”
“I know, son.” Pa reached out and placed a strong hand on Hoss’ shoulder. “I’m proud of you. You too, Joseph.” He grinned over at Joe. “Thank you, both.”
They all stood smiling at each other for a moment and then Adam clapped his hands and rubbed them briskly together. “Well, I think it’s about time we found out just how identical these two guns are!” he said, reaching for the gun and grinning at Hoss. “I guess this means this one’s mine.” They all smiled at the boyish delight on Adam’s face as he held up the gun.
Then Pa held out his hand. “Actually, I have yours upstairs. That one’s mine remember?”
“Oh, no, this one’s mine.” Adam laughed as he pulled the shining new Henry close to his chest and stepped away from Pa.
Hoss grinned and felt a warm glow spread all through him as Pa teasingly threatened to take the gun away from Adam who kept backing away, a wide grin on his face, and Joe ran laughing up the stairs to get the other rifle. Everything might not have worked out the way he had planned, he thought with a deep sense of satisfaction, but it sure had worked out all right, just all right, indeed.